Another 2008 assemblage, Icons of Adventure, corrals more Hammer product that has rarely been seen since the movies’ initial releases in the early 1960s. Hammer, usually associated with horror yarns, also ventured into modern-day psychological dramas and robust period pieces, although the studio never strayed from its successful formula of calibrated pacing and fine performances mixed with liberal doses of sex and violence. The selections on Adventure accentuate Hammer’s atmospheric costume epics, with sex and sadism in healthy supply for The Stranglers of Bombay (1960; 80 minutes) and the Christopher Lee vehicle The Terror of the Tongs (1961; 76 minutes). Hammer mainstay Lee also headlines The Pirates of Blood River (1962; 87 minutes) and The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964; 86 minutes), two back-lot swashbucklers filled with sufficient dash to overcome their low-budget origins.
Just say argggh!: Christopher Lee in The Devil-Ship Pirates, part of Sony’s Hammer Films DVD package supervised by Cinefest contributor Mike Schlesinger.
This collection’s biggest shock, and it’s a pleasant one, is the exquisite remasterings of these titles. Stranglers, shot in widescreen black and white by horror maestro Terence Fisher, is a lustrous eyeful of forbidding shadows and deep darknesses, while the remaining trio boast such sharp, vibrant colors that you’d swear you’re somehow in possession of a Blu-Ray player. Tongs’ color scheme is so ravishing, you have to wonder why Columbia initially released the film stateside in a black-and-white print! Tongs is reproduced in a 1.66:1 ratio, while Stranglers, Blood River and Devil-Ship are in 2.35:1 ratios, and Hammer managed to cram visual details aplenty into their widescreen canvases.
Adventures’ cover art, alas, is a bust (Sony should have just used posters from the films’ exploitation-ad campaigns), yet this set is packed with resurrected extras, including the 1936 color cartoon The Merry Mutineers with caricatures of Tinseltown stars, the first chapter for the 1953 serial The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd and the 1935 two-reeler Hot Paprika with Andy Clyde, who was making comedy shorts for Columbia through the 1950s. The original trailers are a hoot, too, especially Stranglers’ assertion that it was filmed in “Strangloscope.”
And while DVD commentary tracks are rare for vintage movies, each Adventure selection has one; screenwriter David Zelag Goodman contributes to Stranglers, while veteran horror scribe Jimmy Sangster, age 81, is aboard for the other three titles, along the way delivering an essential crash course on Hammer Films’ history. So here’s three belated yo-ho-hos for Icons of Adventure, Schlesinger’s obvious labor of love, and one of the most enjoyable DVD comps in recent memory.